As pediatric dentists, we understand that early feeding practices play a crucial role in shaping a child’s oral (and overall!) health and development. Indeed, how your baby eats their first solid foods can impact their health outcomes as much as what they eat. Instead of spoon-feeding infants purees, more parents are opting to introduce solids through baby-led weaning. As dentists, we’re excited to see this trend because baby-led weaning offers numerous oral motor and health benefits. Below, airway-centric pediatric dentists Drs. Rachel Rosen and Laura Adelman explain 5 benefits of baby-led weaning.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning (BLW) allows babies to self-feed solid foods from the very beginning of their introduction to complementary foods, typically around six months of age. In this method, the caregiver offers baby appropriately sized pieces of food that they can grasp and manipulate on their own, rather than being spoon-fed purees or mashed foods by an adult.
For example, a caregiver may place a wedge of a soft food like an avocado or banana on a baby’s plate and let them grab it, rather than mash it up and spoon it into their mouth.
At its core, baby-led weaning respects the baby’s innate ability to explore and learn about different foods through sensory experiences. This exploration comes with 5 iimportant benefits for baby’s health, growth, & development!
This feeding approach has many oral motor benefits, as well as social and fine motor control benefits, for infants. Below we cover 5 benefits of baby-led weaning.
1. Promotes Craniofacial Development
Craniofacial development involves how our heads and faces form and grow, shaping our appearance and allowing us to do things like see, breathe, speak, and eat. The variety of textures and shapes infants encounter during BLW encourages them to use different positions of the head, tongue, and jaw to take bites and then to chew, all of which exercise oral and facial muscles. Such exercise also aids in developing proper teeth and jaw alignment.
2. Develops Proper Mature Swallowing Pattern
When babies are exclusively breastfed or bottle-fed, their tongue movement is primarily in a sucking pattern, where the tongue moves forward and backward to extract milk. This tongue thrusting pattern is a normal reflex in infants. Spoon feeding reinforces this pattern as the baby’s tongue tends to thrust forward to accept the puree from the spoon. However, this reflex should diminish gradually as infants eat solids. Baby-led weaning helps diminish this reflex. By chewing and manipulating solid foods, babies develop the more complex, coordinated tongue movements. needed for a mature swallow pattern.
3. Encourages Proper Speech & Literacy Skills
Speaking clearly requires our tongue, lips, and jaws to work well together. As we previously discussed, BLW helps baby work all of the muscles necessary for speech development. Also, since BLW enables baby to eat what the rest of the family eats, they are more likely to join the family at the dinner table, taking in all the conversation around them. In fact, research shows young children can learn more vocabulary words through dinner conversation than from listening to someone read them a book aloud!
4. Reduces Chances of Picky Eating
Although no standard medical definition of picky eating exists, every caregiver knows a picky eater when they encounter one! BLW helps reduce the chances of picky eating in several ways:
5. Reduces Chances of Obesity
In the last 30 years, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S. Childhood obesity remains a complex disease, but BLW can potentially reduce your child’s chances of facing it and it’s further health complications in two main ways. First, BLW allows baby to eat as much or as little as they want, honoring their own internal hunger and satiety cues. Second, research shows that eating with the family helps all family members maintain a healthy weight more easily.
The Cons of Baby-Led Weaning
Of course, like all things, BLW does have some downsides.
1. It can be messy.
Infants lack the fine motor control and hand-eye coordination required for spill-free eating! Their natural learning processes also mean that they may decide to squish that banana between their fingers or toss their broccoli on the floor instead of eating it!
2. Learning to cut foods the right size and shape to prevent choking hazards takes some effort at first.
Many parents worry that BLW poses a greater choking risk, but when done correctly, it doesn’t. Luckily, there are many books and websites available to help those looking to learn.
3. BLW may not be right for YOUR baby.
Every baby is different, so one-style of introducing solids is not right for everyone. Before introducing any solids to your infant, you should have a conversation with your pediatrician and your pediatric dentist. Together, they can help you assess if your baby’s stage of development and needs work well with BLW.
Discuss the 5 Benefits of Baby Led Weaning with Your Provider
Before you feed any solids to your infant, you need to discuss your baby’s health with your pediatrician and pediatric dentist. This information is for educational purposes only and is not to be used or construed as medical advice. If you’d like to consult with our pediatric dentists about introducing solids to your infant, Drs. Rachel & Laura are accepting new patients at Great Beginnings Pediatric Dentistry on the border of Twinsburg and Solon, OH. As airway-centric dentists, they can help assess your baby’s sleep, speech, & swallow patterns as you make the important decision of introducing solids into their diet. Call (330) 425-1885 or fill out of Request an Appointment form today.